Braving the Canadian Lake: Paolo Pietropaolo on the joys of freelancing


Freelance radio producer Paolo Pietropaolo says that working as a freelancer is like standing on the edge of a Canadian lake. When embarking on any new creative project, he says, there’s always that daunting moment where you have to figure out where to begin. The lake in front of you is huge, it’s freezing cold, you’re scared. But once you’ve screwed up your courage and taken the plunge, there’s no better feeling.

Speaking at The Freelancer’s Toolbox seminar in Vancouver last week, Pietropaolo used that metaphor — a variation on “The German Forest,” a phrase coined by Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad — to frame his presentation on the pleasures and pains of freelancing. In a talk punctuated by snippets of radio and film audio, Pietropaolo offered encouragement, advice, and reasons for freelancers to be optimistic.

Although there’s been much ink spilled lately over the decline of traditional media, Pietropaolo says we’re living in an age where media is exploding and growing, not shrinking and dying. Whenever there’s a sea change in media, he said, there’s a tendency for people to panic. Pietropaolo acknowledged that change can be scary, but pointed out that it also opens up new doors.

Fear, in fact, is a great motivator and an important part of the freelance life. The Canadian Lake — like Abumrad’s dark and scary German Forest — is a vital part of the creative process.  As Abumrad once said, “Your work has to make you feel stupid or make you feel exposed, or else you are not pushing yourself.”


Some of Pietropaolo’s advice:

• Variety indicates success. If you’re taking on a number of different roles in your freelance life, you’re doing it right. You’ve got to learn to be flexible and to diversify your portfolio. Freelancing can open doors you never knew existed.

• Don’t work for free. “Follow your freelancer’s nose to where the money is.” It takes work to find new opportunities, but being a freelancer forces you to learn how to be entrepreneurial. There are now more ways to fund your projects than ever before.

• Be paid for the work that you do, but after that don’t be afraid to disseminate it for free. The more people who know about you, the more likely they’ll think of you when they’re hiring.


All that said, Pietropaolo acknowledged that making a living as a freelancer is hard. It means having to come up with a dozen ideas, only one of which will ever see development. People will forget you exist. People will want you to work for free. Freelancing has dark times. But for Pietropaolo, it’s the most fulfilling kind of work. People are always going to want to read or listen to something written by a professional, he said. The gigs will come if you just keep at it.


The top five reasons Paolo Pietropaolo loves freelancing:

1. You are your own boss.

2. It’s never boring. You have moments of fear all the time. Some people were meant to work at a predictable job, but freelancing gives you permission to take risks and go your own way.

3. Freelancing pushes you. “It keeps a fire lit under your ass.”

4. You’re forced to learn new skills. Freelancing can take you down new and interesting paths.

5. Freelancing is empowering. It makes you an optimist because you can’t be a pessimist and be a freelancer. It’s up to you to believe you can make it happen. And when it happens, there’s nothing more satisfying.


Posted on November 6, 2013 at 9:05 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

Leave a Reply